MARION — Octavio Cortez celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe not once but twice with his fellow migrants.
A group of about 40 people awoke in the early morning hours of Dec. 11 to celebrate "Las Mañanitas" at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission at St. Gregory Church, he said. The annual feast day is Dec. 12.
"We sang hymns and prayed the rosary to Guadalupe, which is a special rosary said in her honor," added Cortez.
This tradition also includes a portrayal of the story of Juan Diego, to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 in Mexico City along the Tepeyac hillside. A similar portrayal — which also included youths dressed as Aztecs, notably Tonantzin, the goddess of earth for the indigenous people — was part of the Mass in honor of Guadalupe held later the same day at the mission church.
Cortez — an H-2A worker who was to return to his native Mexico days later — helped pass out songbooks and check microphones and other equipment for the afternoon Mass.
"I always help here (at church) with whatever needs to be done," he said.
The Guadalupe story holds such a special place in the hearts of Mexicans like Cortez because Mary appeared to Juan Diego as a Madonna with brown skin and spoke the Aztec dialect, explained Father Bob Kreckel in his bilingual homily. This helped the Spanish missionaries — who initially had found it difficult to convert the native Mexican people — go on to convert millions of them to Christianity, he said.
"The condition of the church today in Mexico, the United States and the whole world calls for a new evangelization," Father Kreckel added. "On this feast 2011, we … also pray that we may follow in her example and that we will be missionaries as she was."
Nearly all the families that attended the afternoon Mass brought baskets, vases and bouquets of flowers in a variety of colors or Guadalupe statues and portraits. All of the items were placed before the small altar in the tiny church and blessed by Father Kreckel. Many of the young girls were dressed in colorful folkloric dresses and skirts and a few of the boys donned linen suits as Juan Diego wore. Sister Luci Romero, a diocesan migrant minister for Wayne County, called for all these children to be part of the opening procession.
Sister Romero said that the Mass is the grandest of feasts for Mexicans and for Catholics in all of the Americas. She added that Our Lady of Guadalupe also walks with the undocumented immigrants who face such difficulty with this country’s law enforcement.
"We are uniting all countries (through her)," she added. "(We pray) that she will push forward immigration reform. … We place this in her hands."